Tony Parker, Tim Duncan

Who can knock off Miami? NBA playoff power rankings

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If you want to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy — the one that goes to the NBA champions each June — you’re going to have to pry it out of Miami’s cold, dead hands.

Good luck. They are the defending champs. They had the best regular season record in the NBA despite coasting to start the season. They have the best player on the planet in LeBron James. They defend. They have strong role players that fit the system.

Miami is the clear favorite to win the title going into the NBA playoffs this weekend.

So who can beat them? Let’s rank the other 15 teams based on their ability to knock off the Heat.

1. Spurs (58 wins, No. 2 seed in West). If you’re talking about the team with the best chance to dethrone the Heat, the Spurs leapfrog the Thunder to the top spot. There are a few reasons for this — the Spurs have the veterans who will not be rattled by the stage, and they have the size to pound the Heat inside. Most importantly, their system — the ball movement and the player movement off the ball — is the best way to diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense.

San Antonio may well not even make it to the finals, however. They are older, a little banged up (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are not fully healthy) and the Thunder give them all sorts of matchup issues. But if they can get to the Finals it could be interesting.

2. Thunder (60 wins, No. 1 seed in the West). While the holes in their game have been more evident lately, sometimes we overlook this is still a very good basketball team. They defend well and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they can score on anybody. Their style of play hasn’t fared well against the Heat — they need better ball movement under pressure — but any team with Westbrook and Durant has a shot.

3. Grizzlies (56 wins, No. 5 seed in the West). Memphis is a dark-horse favorite to come out of the West because they defend well and because they have arguably the best front line in the NBA with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. To beat the Heat you need to defend and pound them inside, two things the Grizzlies can do. The question is in the back court where Mike Conley would struggle against the Heat’s pressure defense for sure. The Heat would be big favorites, but they have a puncher’s chance.

4. Knicks (54 wins, No. 2 seed in the East). The Knicks have had success against the Heat in the regular season, but I’m not a believer in regular season games being predictors of playoff success. The Knicks can score and they would get up points on the Heat, but under pressure will they keep up the ball movement they had during their win streak? And I’m not sold their defense is consistent enough. But they have a puncher’s chance and they will be able to get in the ring with the Heat in the conference finals if they play the way they are capable.

5. Clippers (56 wins, No. 4 seed in West). Chris Paul is the gest point guard in the game and the Clippers have as athletic a front line as there is in the Association with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The questions for the Clippers — both in the playoffs as a whole and in a hypothetical matchup with the Heat — are the two we’ve had about this team since the start of the season: 1) Will they get enough out of DeAndre Jordan at both ends of the court? 2) How well will they defend? Not well enough, I fear.

6. Pacers (49 wins, No. 3 seed in the East). A couple months ago, when you talked about teams that might be the second best in the East and challenge the Heat you talked about Indiana. Their defense is good enough — with potential Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert on the back line they have the best defense in the NBA. They have the size inside with Roy Hibbert and the length to challenge the Heat. But they don’t score enough, and the question is do they score enough to even get to the conference finals?

7. Nuggets (57 wins, No. 3 seed in West). If they were healthy — with Danilo Gallinari, with Kenneth Faried, with Ty Lawson at 100 percent — they’d be higher on this list. They are a favorite dark horse among pundits because of their unselfish play, but in a matchup with Miami their up-and-down style would get them in trouble.

8. Bulls (45 wins, No. 5 seed in East). They are gritty, they will bang you inside and be physical, they have the kind of size in the paint that bothers the Heat with Joakim Noah. It is possible the Bulls will get a shot at the Heat (if the Bulls can beat the Nets in the first round), but without Derrick Rose they are just not going to create and score enough points to win that series.

9. Nets (49 wins, No 4 seed in East). Deron Williams has looked like his old Utah-level self the past month or two, and Brook Lopez is the best scoring center in the league. But the Nets very average defense might have them in trouble in the first round against the Bulls, let alone against the Heat (who they would see in the second round if they get by Chicago)

10. Celtics (41 wins, No. 7 seed in East). The Celtics are going to be a tough out in the playoffs — they defend very well still when Kevin Garnett is on the court. Paul Pierce knows how to score. Jeff Green scores sometimes. They are a gritty, grinding team that will not go easily but will go. Very likely to the Knicks in the first round.

11. Warriors (45-35, No. 6 seed in West). Hey, you make the playoffs for only the second time in a couple decades, enjoy that. You should also enjoy having Stephen Curry and his sweet stroke on the team, and how this is a young and up-and-coming team. There’s a lot to like. But young up-and-coming teams learn hard lessons come the playoffs.

12. Rockets (45 wins, No. 8 seed in West). Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for melding a lot of new parts into a team that really works and plays to its strengths in Houston. James Harden has proved he can be a superstar that carries a team, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik have stepped up into key roles. But their running style plays right into the hands of OKC in the first round, and while it will be fun they will be toast.

13. Lakers (45 wins, No. 7 seed in West). Lakers fans got what they wanted — a matchup with the Spurs. And as the Spurs are banged up the Lakers have a better chance than they would against OKC. But the Lakers are not a serious threat to anyone because their defense just isn’t good enough — the Spurs will expose it in the first round and carve it up (sorry Lakers fans, this will not be the flat Spurs team of last Sunday you get to face). Dwight Howard has stepped up in the paint but Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will find a lot less space to operate and be comfortable.

14. Hawks (44 wins, No. 6 seed in East). Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They have a strong front line with Al Horford and Josh Smith but they have never been a serious threat with that core and this year teams hoped to face them rather than the Bulls. They will not beat the Pacers, let alone the Heat.

15. Bucks (38 wins, No. 8 seed in East). They get Miami in the first round. There are some people in Milwaukee who think the Bucks have some real matchup advantages with the Heat. They also brew a lot of beer in Milwaukee. These two things are related.

Spurs fans decide to vote for Gregg Popovich in presidential election

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Gregg Popovich had plenty of strong opinions leading up to and after the 2016 Presidential Election. Perhaps he would have been a good choice for the White House himself?

That’s what 25 people in Bexar County — where San Antonio is located — thought when they cast their vote for the 67-year-old San Antonio Spurs coach.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, rather than cast their vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, some folks thought the Air Force Academy graduate would suit them better as the Leader of the Free World.
From MySA.com:

They wrote-in Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Jesus and Mickey Mouse, among others, to be president. A few cast their vote for a Popovich-Duncan ticket, but despite their efforts, Trump and Mike Pence were elected president and vice president.

The write-in records, obtained from the Bexar County Elections Department, show 5,226 people cast a vote for someone, or something, other than the two major party candidates— Clinton and Trump.

Popovich has been putting his money where his mouth is, both in his criticism of the current political climate and in his community outreach.

The Spurs coach recently held a town hall with Cornel West and local disadvantaged San Antonio youth.

Craig Sager to be inducted to Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame

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TNT’s legendary sideline reporter Craig Sager is widely held to be one of the best dudes working in professional sports, and this December he will be honored by his peers for his years of hard work. The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame — an organization made up of members of almost every major American media company — will induct Sager to their ranks on Dec. 13.

While Sager is now known for his genial demeanor, wacky suits, and multiple unforunate bouts with cancer, he has been in the national public eye for more than two decades.
From the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame:

Sager’s presence has become synonymous with big-time NBA basketball (not to mention with unique style). As a sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT for nearly two decades, he has earned the respect of players, coaches, and viewers. He previously hosted Atlanta Hawks telecasts for TBS Superstation and was a reporter on TNT’s NFL pregame, halftime, and postgame from 1990 to ’97.

This is an excellent thing to happen to a generally excellent human being.

Congratulations to Sager.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reveals hilarious strategy for unlimited timeouts

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Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn’t afraid to speak his mind or put his intelligence on display. The 2011 NBA Champion recently made comments amid a losing season that the NBA is better than digging ditches, where most of us would have to agree.

He’s also not afraid to game the game a little bit.

Via Twitter:

This feels like one of those moments where you realize that the answer to something simple is often right in front of you the entire time.

Carlisle is a basketball genius, and there’s nothing wrong if he’s technically playing within the rules — even if what he’s doing is asking for a penalty within those rules.

Don’t hate the player — or the coach — hate the game.

Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky says new role making adjustment to NBA hard

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26:  Tomas Satoransky #31 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There was a lot of preseason buzz about Wizards rookie Tomas Satoransky — he’s 6’7″, long, athletic, he’s got handles, and he made some impressive plays in preseason.

His regular season has been a disappointment. He’s playing more than 16 minutes a night, but is shooting just 40 percent from the field, is scoring 3.8 points with 2.4 assists per game, and he has a PER at 8 that suggests he could use some D-League run.

Why is he having trouble adjusting? He spoke to gigantes.com and said a lot of it is learning a new position (translation via Sportando).

“I’m not playing as a point guard, I’m playing mainly as 2 or 3 and that’s difficult for me,” Satoransky said. ‘When you played your entire career as point guard, it’s difficult to adapt to a new role, especially because you have to play defense against bigger guys. I know I have to do better to play in these roles”

With John Wall and Trey Burke on the Wizards, there isn’t a lot of room for run at the point for Satoransky. He also is adjusting to the NBA game — a third of his possessions come as the pick-and-roll ball handler (a big role for an NBA point guard) and he is shooting 34.8 percent on those, although he is passing well out of those situations (with passes the Wizards average almost a point per possession when he comes off the pick, stats via Synergy Sports). Satoransky also is getting a fair amount of spot-up looks but is shooting  28.6 percent on those.

There are a lot of things going wrong with the Wizards’ bench units, Satoransky is part of that but at least he’s a guy the Wizards want to take their time and develop. Scott Brooks is still figuring out how to make all this work at the same time. Which means Satoransky may have a good NBA future ahead of him, but there is a lot of work to come first, and this rookie season is going to be rough.